Greetings from Hope College! I am writing this issue of Presidential Perspective from what has become my new home, the President’s House on Hope’s campus. My wife, Betty, and I moved into the house in early August, and on August 24 the entire Voskuil family was present as I experienced something I certainly hadn’t planned for as I approached retirement years: my formal installation as Hope College’s interim president. Since then, many of you have reached out with messages of welcome, gratitude, prayers and warm wishes. We are deeply grateful, and honored, too. This career turn has been a source of much joy for me and my family, for we never anticipated having the opportunity to give back to a place that has given us so much.
Students at the Core of All We Do
Soon after Betty and I moved onto campus, we hosted our first official event: a welcome dinner for the students of Hope’s Summer Bridge program. These 40 first-year students arrived on campus a couple weeks early to focus on a successful transition to college life. Betty and I instantly felt an affinity with them, for we, too, were making an important transition at Hope. In the weeks since that event, our students have continued to impress us. In so many ways, they reflect Hebrews 6:19, “We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul,” which was a theme I shared during Chapel on Sept. 11 (listen to the audio). From classrooms to lectures, from arts performances to athletic events, from Chapel to Phelps Dining Hall (where we are eating meals daily — what a luxury!), one thing has become clear: Hope College remains strong in its commitment to being a student-centered institution. Students are at the core of all we do here.
Hope is often recognized for its dedication to students and track record of student outcomes. In its 2018 rankings, U.S. News & World Report again named Hope among the best liberal arts colleges in the entire country, with a first-tier nationwide ranking of #106. U.S. News & World Report also included Hope in a list of only 42 institutions that offer outstanding opportunities for undergraduate research and creative projects. This list — which includes universities like Yale, Stanford, MIT, Princeton and Northwestern — is generated by nominations from college administrators representing more than 1,500 institutions.
Of all the recognitions Hope College has received, I am perhaps most delighted by the 2017 Award for Undergraduate Research Accomplishments. In notifying us of this award, leaders from the Council on Undergraduate Research wrote:
Hope College’s achievements as a leader in undergraduate research set your institution apart from other finalists for this award. The award committee specifically recognized the historical and broad commitment of Hope College to creating a research-supportive environment for faculty and students, including a broad array of research-supportive initiatives... The most noteworthy of these are FACES, a program to encourage early and sustained research involvement by under-represented groups, and Day1, which reaches out to a large cohort of students with immediate research involvement at the beginning of their college careers.
Of course, these recognitions are a testament to the great work of our faculty and staff, who are unwavering in their support of students.
The Five Virtues
In recent issues of this newsletter, you have read an overview of each of the six goals in Hope’s strategic plan, Hope for the World: 2025. What you may not have read are the five virtues identified as “Hope’s Enduring Commitments” in the introduction of the strategic plan. As I prepared for the role of president, I studied and reflected on the plan — and found myself drawn to those five virtues, which struck me as biblically-rooted parameters for the manner in which members of a Christian academic community should engage with one another. And so, when I spoke to Hope employees at the installation ceremony I commended the virtues to them as guiding principles as we collectively move forward in our mission. Below are some thoughts I shared at the ceremony:
1) Humility to Listen
The basic posture of a theist — one who believes in divine transcendence — is that of humility. Psalm 46:10a reads, “Be still and know that I am God.” The essential confession of a Christian theist is that we are not God. And while we do believe that God has graciously revealed eternal truths to us through the incarnate one — Jesus Christ — in the Holy Scriptures, the fullness of God’s will and ways remain hidden from us. We have our primary example of utter humility in Jesus Christ, God-in-the-flesh, who according to the Apostle Paul “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). The first, and perhaps most important, virtue for meaningful community discussion and decision-making is humility to listen to others and to respect what they have to say.
2) Hospitality to Welcome
One of the most consistent virtues in the biblical stories is that of hospitality. Again, Jesus Himself best exemplifies this virtue. The very essence of the gospel of grace is that of invitation and welcome. Jesus welcomed the aliens of his culture — the Samaritan woman, the tax collector, powerless peasants, the lame and the lepers — and following Pentecost, the welcome of the Gospel was carried to Africa, Asia and Europe, to Gentiles as well as to Jews. Despite inherent racism, ethnicism, nationalism and tribalism, Christianity has always been a universal faith that embraces all tribes, tongues and nations. Who are strangers in our midst? What does it mean to be hospitable in our discussions and decision-making, especially when we tend to surround ourselves with people like ourselves — from our division and department, our building, our friends, our race or ethnicity, our educational background and our job description, the people who agree with us religiously, politically and socially?
“Hospitality to welcome” means cutting across some of these self-imposed boundaries. This summer, at the final presentation of Hope’s Faith and Scholarship Discussion Series, Tori Pelz, assistant professor of art, spoke about “Vocation as Hospitality: A Call to Become and Welcome the Stranger.” Tori quoted Henri Nouwen, who described hospitality as “the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend, instead of an enemy… not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.” True hospitality is not a matter of winning someone to our point of view, but of providing space to grow and change.
3) Patience to Understand
At my best, I am willing to listen to the argument of someone with whom I disagree on an important issue. But far too often, I am not patient enough to fully comprehend what that person truly means. In fact, I am too often guilty of jumping into the fray with my own perspective before really hearing what is being argued. And, I am so impatient! I so desperately desire to resolve the differences that I fail to learn what they are.
True hospitality requires us to be patient. Many times it requires that we take the time to listen to our students — hear their stories and learn from them as well as from each other. When Betty and I hosted our Summer Bridge students, they shared the stories of their lives and what it meant to leave their families to attend Hope. One young man from Chicago told us that it was very difficult leave his family. His mother is battling cancer, and he had been the primary caregiver for his younger siblings. He is concerned about them. Sometimes we must have the patience to invite silence — a time for reflection. Patience, to understand.
4) Courage to Challenge
Over the years I have heard a great deal about West-Michigan “nice,” and how the posture of “nice” tends to perpetuate a status quo that is hollow or artificial. Now, as someone who has been captive to the West-Michigan “nice” culture, and who highly values graciousness and politeness, I confess that there are times when I fail to have the courage to challenge the status quo when it produces stagnation and artificiality. To be a healthy community we must have the courage to challenge, but also the grace to allow challenges to be offered about our assumptions. Challenging assumptions does not run counter to humility or hospitality to welcome, but might take a great deal of intellectual courage. Just think of the courage it took for many politicians to take a stand following the expressions of hatred and bigotry after the incidents of violence in Charlottesville in August.
5) Honesty to Speak the Truth in Love
Honesty is at a premium in our society today. For an academic institution, especially a Christian academic institution, the value of academic and moral honesty must be cherished. A recent Time Magazine cover posed the question “Is Truth Dead?,” underscoring the challenge of our times. No, truth is not dead, just as God is not dead. In fact, truth is not dead because God is not dead. Christians believe that God created our world and that we are invited to explore and research and postulate and theorize about it, all in our honest search for the truth. We do not fear where this search for the truth will take us because all truth is God’s truth. In the end, we believe that the search for the truth points us to Jesus, “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
Having served on Hope’s faculty from 1977 to 1994, I recall several important campus-wide discussions around the college’s identity during Dr. Gordon Van Wylen’s presidency. These discussions were marked by considerable encouragement to speak the truth in love. Here is the key to fruitful engagement over important issues: It must be done in an atmosphere of trust, rooted in love. When we come together as a community of trust, the potential for our college is astonishing. And if we practice the five virtues for community engagement, I am convinced that Hope will flourish in the future.
As I told my colleagues at the installation ceremony, Betty and I are falling in love with the Hope community all over again. I’m confident that the next time you are on Hope’s campus, you will, too. Whether you are joining us for an on-campus event or you are visiting us virtually at hope.edu, you will be inspired by the people, mission, grounds and facilities that make up our community. Please be sure to check out the brand-new Jim and Martie Bultman Student Center, a beautiful new 42,000-square-foot facility that is the hub for our 3,150 students.
As always, I ask that you tell your friends and neighbors about Hope College. If you know students or families who may be interested in learning more about Hope College, please share their names at hope.edu/refer. We are always excited to connect with prospective students and share our stories!
Spera in Deo!
Rev. Dr. Dennis N. Voskuil
DeWitt Student Cultural Center141 East 12th StreetFloor 2Holland, MI 49423